Diabetes is a chronic and fatal disease in which there are
above normal levels of glucose in the bloodstream. This
disease has many different effects on the body and is
controlled in several different ways.
There are two main types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is
also called "insulin-dependent" diabetes. In this type, the
body is unable to store and use glucose as an energy source
effectively. The pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin
that helps lower blood sugar and aids in the passage of
glucose out of the blood cells into body cells. In type 1
diabetes, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin.
This type may occur in both sexes and mainly in children,
teens, or young adults. One half of all people with type 1
are under the age of 20. It is very rare in Asians,
Africans, and Native Americans. This disease is hereditary,
but is usually triggered by a viral infection. Some of the
symptoms of type 1 are urgent thirst, excessive urination,
weight loss, fatigue, and irritability. Because it is
inherited, this type can not be prevented.
The second type of diabetes is type 2 diabetes, or
"non-insulin dependent" diabetes. In this type, insulin is
produced by the pancreas but is ineffective. This type
usually affects obese middle-aged and older people and can
affect nearly all races. The risk of developing this type
increases with age. Similar to the first type, it is also
hereditary but is triggered by obesity. Some of the
symptoms of type 2 diabetes are thirst, excessive
urination, weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision, frequent
infections, tingling, and numbness. The only way to avoid
this type is to avoid obesity.
Even though stress is a big factor in the development of
diabetes, it is not an actual cause. In type 1 diabetes,
the immune system accidentally destroys the
insulin-producing cells in the pancreas as if they were
foreign invaders. This is called an auto-immune response
and is the actual reason a person might get diabetes. The
reason for this auto-immune response is not yet known.
Other factors linked to type 1 diabetes are genetics and
viruses. In type 2 diabetes, obesity is the single most
Diabetes involves a hormone action which varies from person
to person and, therefore, no two people's disease are quite
the same. Because there are endless varieties of responses
and treatments, the care of this disease depends mainly on
individualized plans. Meal and exercise plans are very
important in the treatment of diabetes. Meal plans help
control weight, control blood sugar levels, and help reduce
the chances of needing additional medications. A healthy
diet should include avoiding sugar, eating low fat and high
fiber foods. Meals should be eaten regularly and at least
three times a day to control blood sugar levels. Exercise
helps to maintain muscle tone and physical fitness. Also,
it helps to increase sensitivity to medications and to
lower blood sugar levels.
There may be other paths followed in treatment. Oral
medications can be taken to reduce sugar levels by
improving insulin release, reducing available sugar, and
decreasing insulin resistance. This method does not work
for all diabetics. Very commonly, diabetics will use
insulin injections to mimic their normal insulin release.
This makes up for the body's inability to produce insulin
and reduce blood sugar levels and by improving the insulin
action. Before doing an insulin injection, the person will
usually do a blood sugar test by pricking their finger.
Insulin injections are usually taken 3-4 or more times a
One treatment for diabetes that is experimental right now
is a pancreas transplant. Some positive aspects of this are
that the diabetic may stop the insulin shots and that
people with nerve damage do not get worse but usually show
significant improvement. On the other hand, some negative
aspects of the transplant are that the body may reject the
new organ and the patient will also have to take
immunosuppressant drugs which lower resistance to other
diseases such as cancer and viral infections. This
transplant treatment is not recommended for type 1 patients
unless they are also receiving a new kidney. Statistics
show that 15% of all patients who get a new pancreas die
within five years of the transplant.
Serious complications frequently develop from diabetes.
Arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is a major
problem for diabetics and causes strokes and heart attacks.
It also causes poor circulation. Since smoking also has
these effects on the body, diabetics should definitely not
smoke. Another complication is cataracts, which is a
degenerative change in the lens of the eye. Cataracts cause
dimness of vision or eventual loss of vision. Neuropathy is
nerve damage that occurs in many diabetics. This causes
weakness, dizziness, and loss of feeling in hands and feet.
Other complications are kidney damage, high blood pressure,
major infections, and foot ulcers. Because nerve damage and
tissue death are big problems for diabetics, cuts,
scratches, and infections on the feet will be harder to
detect. This is why proper foot care is extremely
important. Also, if blood sugar levels are poorly
controlled, the diabetic may develop serious problems with
their teeth and gums. A special concern is periodontal
disease, which can eventually destroy the gums and bones
that support the teeth.
Besides the complications that go along with the disease, a
diabetic may have severe reactions to several different
related factors. A hypoglycemic reaction occurs when an
excess of insulin causes the blood glucose to fall below
50mgs/100ml of blood. If alcohol is consumed on an empty
stomach, it can cause a severe low blood sugar reaction.
Because no sugar can be released to the body, it is very
important to eat before drinking alcohol. Drinking alcohol
is also a bad idea because it dulls the sense of judgment
and make the person forget about eating a meal or taking an
A diabetic may have a positive reaction to exercise. It
gives them a higher energy level, higher stamina, and a
better means of dealing with stress. Exercise also helps to
lower blood pressure, control weight, and decrease the risk
for heart disease. All of these are very beneficial to the
A diabetic athlete should always have his/her "diabetes
gear" with them while working out. This consists of ID of
some kind, a Glucagon Emergency Kit, juice, crackers,
water, and a blood sugar testing kit. In very severe cases,
it is important that the person knows and watches out for
the symptoms of falling blood sugar. These are usually
weakness, shakiness, headaches, tingling, stomach aches,
dizziness, and nervousness. They may also lose coordination
or get confused. If their brain is not getting enough fuel,
they may also pass out. This could lead to serious
accidents if a reaction occurred while driving a car.
Repeated reactions may also cause brain damage.
Carefully performed blood sugar tests are very critical to
avoiding reactions. When a reaction occurs, it is very
important for the person to eat or drink something sweet to
raise sugar levels. If the diabetic is having convulsions
or is unconscious, glucagon must be injected and an
ambulance must be called immediately. Glucagon raises blood
sugar levels by stimulating the liver to release stored
glucose and help it get into the bloodstream. Under no
circumstances should food or liquid be forced into the
mouth of the person having such a reaction. Once the
reaction has improved, the diabetic must eat something with
carbohydrates or protein or a repeat reaction could occur.
One in twenty Americans have diabetes. One half of these
people do not even know that they have it. One in every
five people born today will develop it. Even though
technological research is constantly presenting new hope,
the number of people with diabetes is expected to rise
still in the future.